How Vision Tests Can Detect Serious Health Problems
by Lisa DiFalco
Are there additional ways to see early signs of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers? Advances in vision testing may offer such a solution. The general recommendation is that individuals come in for an annual eye exam once a year. This is often done to detect eye health issues, manage eye conditions and support vision needs with accurate prescriptions. However, many do not realize that common health problems can be detected with more advanced technologies in vision care.
Imagine being able to catch the first signs of diabetes or heart issues with a comprehensive eye exam using technologies associated with retinal imaging. New retinal imaging devices offer clearer and more comprehensive images of the retina, a structure located at the back of the eye. This sensitive area may be overlooked during a traditional eye exam, but new exams, often offered by optometrists, make the enhanced benefits of an eye exam with retinal imaging available to vision patients. Patients get additional insight into their vision health with comprehensive eye exams and may receive additional information to address early signs of potentially serious health issues. Understand more about changing technologies in vision testing and how vision tests can detect signs of serious health conditions.
What Is Retinal Imaging?
Leading optometry practices now offer retinal imaging as part of their comprehensive vision exams. Retinal imaging allows for photographs of the fundus. This helps practitioners diagnose, document and monitor various ocular pathologies that can first become present in the periphery. Traditional eye examination techniques and equipment do not offer practitioners the same capabilities as retinal imaging.
There are a number of differences between a single image capture by the optomap® retinal imaging device and traditional images when it comes to fields of view. One is that while traditional methods show 15 percent of the retina in a single image, retinal imaging can capture over 80 percent of the retina in a single panoramic image. 3D animations are available to eye care practitioners and patients for an enhanced viewing experience.
The retina is a place where a vision provider can see blood vessels. Eye doctors can look at the condition of the blood vessels and see signs of eye conditions and other diseases including:
- Heart disease;
- Stroke; and
- Some cancers.
Signs of serious and potentially deadly health conditions may first appear on the retina. This can occur long before any feelings of pain or changes to vision. A retina screening, as part of a thorough eye exam, can help patients know more about the state of the eye health and general health.
Diabetes and Eye Health
Diabetes has become a common condition for many. Currently, over 21 million Americans have been diagnosed with diabetes, and there are an estimated 1.4 million new cases diagnosed every year. There are studies on detecting diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema and treatment of diabetic eye diseases and more. New patients with diabetes need to know about the link between their condition and eye health.
Individuals diagnosed with diabetes should be aware of the American Diabetes Association (ADA) Clinical Practice Recommendations of annual dilated comprehensive eye examinations for patients with Diabetes mellitus (DM). Retinal imaging is useful for not only detecting early symptoms but for noting progression. According to the ADA, individuals with DM should have retinal assessments “with retinal photographs (with or without dilation of the pupils) read by experienced experts.”
Retinal imaging is an approved technology that may afford individuals an earlier start at addressing signs of diabetes, diabetic retinopathy and other eye conditions. This supports more effective management of diabetes and may slow progression of certain vision-related conditions. Emily Chew, medical researcher at the National Eye Institute in Bethesda, stated in an email interview:
“It is important for all persons with diabetes to have regular eye exams (annually) and for those over 65 to have eye exams on a yearly basis to detect any eye disease that may be treatable.”
Heart Disease and Retinal Imaging
Retinal imaging helps optometrists assess the health of blood vessels of the eye. These vessels, as part of the brain’s vascular system, share important anatomical features and will respond similarly to other vascular system structures to stress and disease. Red dots or small blot clots on blood vessels in the retina can indicate systemic diseases of the body. Retinal abnormalities may show whether or not patients may develop high blood pressure or be at risk of dying from a cardiac disease within a 10-year span. Tien Wong of the Center for Eye Research Australia at the University of Melbourne said:
“My hope is that one day, retinal imaging will be able to provide an additional means to stratify risk and help identify people who may benefit from early lifestyle changes and preventative therapies.”
The retina is an important membrane surrounding the eyeball. It receives incoming light from the lens and creates signals to be read by the brain. Because of the transparency of the eyes, they are the only organ permitting physicians a direct view of blood vessels. New ways to assess the health of the retina and note any abnormalities in blood vessels or attached structures can also provide insights on the health of the vascular system and potentially be used to mitigate risk and progression of heart disease and related conditions.
Support Vision and General Health
Patients of any age can benefit from non-invasive technologies, such as digital imaging, to get a more comprehensive view of the eye and check for abnormalities. Patients may be seeing more optometrists incorporate digital imagining within eye exams. Vision providers, healthcare professionals, case managers and families may want to learn more about advanced vision technologies and their potential to support both vision and general health.